Agility Is Key in Finding and Keeping Candidates

Think creatively about meeting job requirements in a tight labor market

By Pamela Babcock Oct 13, 2016
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NEW YORK—As more people find jobs and as candidates grow scarce, HR professionals who want to create better organizational outcomes should make sure talent acquisition teams are agile and prepared for the business's future needs.

At The Conference Board's recent Talent Acquisition Conference, speakers stressed the importance of keeping up with workforce trends, involving employees in recruiting, being flexible about skill requirements, developing employees and being transparent about potential career trajectories, especially with Millennials.

Erin Duran, director of talent acquisition for LifeBridge Health, a Baltimore-based health system, said being agile means "pushing my people [and] getting them out of their comfort zone" in a rapidly evolving field.

"Sometimes that means making some hard decisions," Duran said. "But it's also really getting my team to understand the business piece" so they can be more flexible. "As the business evolves, it's really making sure our recruitment team evolves with that as well."

Huge Challenges for Health Care

Duran admitted that the challenge to find health care workers is "huge," particularly since shortages can impact quality of care, close emergency rooms and lead to errors that can harm peoples' lives.

"When I have a leader come in and they're emotional, that really just takes it to a completely different level," Duran said. LifeBridge Health, which has four hospitals, about 100 physician practices and multiple express care clinics, wants its brand to help attract quality hires and show that it's a place people would want to work.

"While that's not all [talent acquisition] ownership, the quality piece of bringing the right people in is 100 percent on us," Duran explained.

Keep Up with Workforce Trends

Ron Patrick, deputy director of talent development for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), said he's concerned the U.S. government and some other organizations aren't keeping pace with workforce projections and social, diversity and generational trends as Baby Boomers retire.

Patrick said the key is "marrying senior leadership's awareness to what's really out there" and having frank discussions that not only was this candidate hard to find, "but you're not going to find anybody else like this because no one else wants to follow in his or her footsteps."

He added that these days, having an all-white, all-male senior leadership team is "unacceptable" because potential hires will ask, "Do I see myself at that top level?" And if they don't, "They're not going to come work for you, nor should they."

While the U.S. government has long been seen as a largely safe and secure place to work, Patrick said he thinks it should "modernize" how it markets itself to attract the best talent.

Adopt More Holistic Recruiting Approach

Several speakers said talent acquisition professionals should really understand the business they are working for. CIA puts recruiters through six months of training before they ever talk to applicants to ensure they understand operations, science and technology, support, digital innovation, and more. 

Principal Financial rotates information technology (IT) employees into its recruiting organization. At any given time, the company has two developers on its IT recruiting team.

LifeBridge Heath tries to be flexible by moving employees with transferable skills into different roles, particularly since burnout among nurses is a real concern. When the company moved an acute care nurse into recruitment, results were "phenomenal. Nobody can sell better what they do as a nurse than a nurse," Duran said.

Adam Lawrence, vice president of talent acquisition at McKesson, a San Francisco-based pharmaceutical firm, agreed that rotating staff from outside talent acquisition into talent acquisition roles pays dividends, because, "they just think differently" and are often more cost containment-minded.

"There's a value-add to mixing up your staff" because if the people representing you to future employees aren't intimate with and don't really understand what you do, you've got a big problem, he said.

Be Flexible About Skill Requirements

Several speakers said organizations should think differently about required skills and capabilities for their employees. Lawrence said he thinks most companies over hire by 50 percent of "what they really need to do the job." Sure, there are exceptions, like needing a specialized engineer, but for a typical desk or knowledge worker, Lawrence said, companies may be better off focusing more on the traits that organizations will increasingly need, such as agility, the ability to lead through change and collaboration.

Don't Make It Hard to Move Around

Patrick encouraged attendees to continue developing employees by sending them on rotations and externships. After all, a computer scientist may later transition to be manager of contracts. Providing training and a way to take risks is just another way to recruit and keep hard-fought talent.

But Lawrence noted that some companies make it hard for people to move around. Managers who hoard talent aren't punished while those good at moving talent aren't recognized. Often, employees get frustrated if they know they're being held back.

"When there are systemic issues, we have to be brave about talking about them," he said.

Be Transparent About Career Paths

Moderator Kara Yarnot, a program director for The Conference Board and founder and president of Meritage Talent Solutions, noted that Millennials are a huge force to be reckoned with.

"Love them or hate them, they're more diverse, highly collaborative, they've very transparent, they want feedback [and] they're very good at giving feedback," Yarnot said.

Lawrence said it's important to know the velocity at which talent moves through your organization. If you're trying to hire a Millennial for a job he is qualified for today, when will he stop progressing because there's a 40- or 50-year-old in the job above him who hasn't moved and probably isn't going to move?

Organizations with stagnant succession plans should be honest, Patrick said. Tell them, "If you come to work for us, you may not be at the C-level in your first five years and it may take some time," but offer a typical career path and how the employee might progress.

After all, in a tight labor market, "the last thing you want to do is mislead or misinform anyone you are hiring," Patrick said. "Because they will vote by walking out."

Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer in the New York City area.

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